When it comes to kitchen gear, I’m all about combining form and function. After all, who doesn’t love practical but pretty tea towels or adorable recipe cards? However, when it comes to kitchen workhorses—you know, the products you use every day—pretty doesn’t always pay. For those heavy rotation items, I turn to my local restaurant supply store.
I know what you’re thinking: those are for restaurants. You’re not wrong, but these suppliers are often open to the public, and they have a lot to offer home cooks.
According to Jamie Little, marketing director at Fein Brothers, a Milwaukee restaurant supplier, “The big advantage to shopping here is that everything is commercial grade. These products are made to be used over and over again—to really take a beating.”
With that in mind, here’s what you should be buying at your local restaurant supply store.
1. Baking sheets
I’m not sure there’s any baking tool that works harder than the classic cookie sheet—especially when it gets thumped against the oven rack. These sheets get used over and over and over again, so it’s worth investing in an industrial-grade product. That’s where your local restaurant store’s baking section comes in handy. These stores are packed with pans of all sizes (perfect for larger sheet pan dinners), and they’re all extremely affordable. A full size sheet pan will likely run you under $10, and cookie sheet-sized trays under $4.
2. Cutting boards
Be sure to add cutting boards to your supply store shopping list. Available in multiple sizes for a fraction of what you’d pay at your local kitchen shop or department store, Little says that this kitchen basic is one of the most common items home cooks look out for.
3. Cake decorating supplies
When it comes to shopping for cake decorating supplies, it can be hard to track down the right tip (is it just me, or is my local craft store always out of the one I want?). Restaurant supply stores offer a huge assortment of piping tips and pastry bags to satisfy all your creative decorating needs—and at more affordable prices than most shops. Oh, and if you’re in the market for a fancy decorating turntable for your most beautiful cakes ever, you’ll find those at restaurant suppliers, too!
4. Whisks and other utensils
Whisks, spatulas and wooden spoons are all easy enough to come by at traditional shops, but you definitely won’t find the same massive selection. Restaurant supply stores offer all these in dozens of sizes. Plus, these heavy-duty utensils are built to last—with high heat resistant spatulas, you don’t ever have to worry about one melting to your pan again!
I’ll admit that I’m envious of all the beautiful knife sets I see online and when I shop kitchen stores, but sometimes these knife blocks can be on the pricy side. Instead of investing the big bucks into one of these kits, you can get a set of good, hardworking knives at a restaurant supplier for a fraction of the cost. Ranging from paring knives to meat cleavers, you can find an excellent variety.
6. Mixing bowls
When it comes to the basics, like mixing bowls, there’s no need to splurge on a fancy set. Instead, shop your local supplier for dishes in every conceivable size. These stainless steel and glass bowls can withstand years of use and will cost you only a few bucks.
7. Baking gadgets in all sizes
When it comes to finding multiple sizes of cookie scoops, batter dishers (perfect for filling cupcake and muffin pans) and offset spatulas, I struggle to find the options I need at a big box store. I just can’t bear to use a regular size scoop when I’m craving extra large cookies! That’s where restaurant supply stores come in so handy. You no longer have to settle for one-size-fits-all products. Instead you can find a huge array of cookie scoops, dishers, spatulas, cupcake pans and so much more in a huge variety of sizes (and at better prices than traditional kitchen stores). Little also points out that when you find the right size tool for a given recipe “it provides a lot of consistency—you can know exactly how much a recipe will make every time.”
8. Frying pans
When I’m cooking up a storm, I find that I can never have enough frying pans. Whether you prefer nonstick, ceramic or stainless steel, restaurant suppliers offer plenty of affordable options so you can stock up and be prepared for those busy days in the kitchen.
9. Silicone mats
While I typically rely on parchment paper to line my cookie sheets, I can’t help but want a few reusable silicone mats to ease the process (is it just me or do you cut the wrong size half the time?). I’ve always been reluctant to invest in these silicone baking sheets because most department stores sell them for about $25 each—now multiply that by the number of trays you can pop into an oven at once and you’ve got a huge investment. Luckily enough, restaurant supply stores sell these silicone mats for about a third of the price. Little explained that they’re one of the most popular products she sees home cooks buy.
10. Specialty tools
Some kitchen gadgets and tools are more difficult to find than others. Whether you’re looking for a madeleine mold for those delicate cookies, a crepe pan for French desserts or a giant pizza peel for homemade pies, restaurant supply stores are a great resource for these hard-to-find items.
While unexpected, these industrial suppliers are a great resource for even home cooks. You’re likely to find a few great tools at a great price, and at the very least, as Little puts it, “It’s just really fun to look around.”